En Famille, Online With Steve Nieve; The Immobile Tour
For over a month, Steve Nieve (best known in Zub circles as Elvis Costello’s longtime keyboardist) has been streaming cozy piano-based salon shows from his home in Normandy, France. The “Daily Improvisation” shows, recently dubbed The Immobile Tour, are a family affair, featuring his partner Muriel Téodori as hype man, cinematographer, and sometimes vocalist and her son, AJUQ, a six foot-nine drummer, singer, and sometimes collaborator with Steve Nieve. The two have toured as a duo, drums, keys, and vocals. This duo are two exceptionally talented folks with whom to share lockdown. Nieve has been the longtime embodiment of musical mastery for Elvis Costello, plucked from formal training at the Royal College of Music to be part of the Attractions. His classical training and music theory chops have been a secret weapon fueling Costello’s compositional ambition and flights of fancy since their association began in 1977.
Using the Facebook Live platform, the troupe interacts real time with viewers, AJUQ manning his Instagram simultaneously on his phone. The shows are intimate and charming. Lovely moments happen, such as Davey Faragher, Nieve’s bandmate in the Imposters, sending comments in the chat. What a moment of joy for all, as Davey had been an early Covid patient, to see him interacting and reporting himself well on the mend. Muriel, with her beautiful accent will call out “Benmont is here,” or the names of other musical family friends in the chat. Of course to us, that’s Benmont Tench of The Heartbreakers and keyboardist with Imposters Pete Thomas and Faragher in Works Progress Administration, the supergroup with members of Nickel Creek. We feel like we are in a lovely after-dinner gathering of musician friends.
The shows have been a mix of requests, improvisations (Steve takes notes --E, F, C sharp!- on requests and improvises pieces around the progression), and specialty themes. Steve proudly displayed an old synth he’d found in storage, excitedly sharing “this will be perfect for the Brian Eno (Day 26) show!” There was a Mark Hollis Talk of Talk Talk show (Day 31), a City and Towns theme (Day 29). A Get Happy! Day, a day of happy songs, and of course, and a very special visit by EC--Elvis Costello-- himself.
Day 24, the Special Elvis Costello show, was a bit like a favorite uncle coming over. AJUQ, who had grown up as part of the Costello extended touring family, is called “Antoine” by Elvis, just as members of my family call our 90+ year old uncle “Kenny,” a name he’d not been called since a wee lad by anyone other than my grandmother and her branch of the family. I thought it was funny for someone who should be no stranger to stage names to call “AJUQ” by his given name. And of course they had an outstanding multi-continental performance of a number of Costello favorites, including a brand-new song.
Day 34 brought the Special Squeeze Daily Improvisation with guest Chris Difford. During the Attractions interregnum in the late 80s, Nieve played with Squeeze, during the gap between Jools Holland’s stints. There are long ties between the Squeeze and Costello musical families. My first time seeing them was on their joint “English Mugs” tour in 1981. EC famously produced the landmark East Side Story, a near perfect testament to the genius of the Difford-Tillbrook songbook. His voice is a backing vocal to the band’s best known song, “Tempted.” It was Costello who suggested that new Squeeze keyboardist and pub rock ringer Paul Carrack, whose smooth vocals made Ace’s “How Long?” ascend to the one-hit wonder pantheon, take the lead on the song.
The Special Squeeze Daily Improvisation began with a lovely piano version of ‘Pulling Mussels (From the Shell).’ Muriel showed us a tableau of items she laid out as a “hint” for the days theme--items mentioned in “Tempted.” They admit from the outset there are so many great Squeeze songs, this show may be Part 1. The big guns come out from the start, as AJUQ prepared to sing “an obscure Squeeze song” and they launched into a tender “Tempted.” The last verse featured him playing along on drums, kicking the song into overdrive. His kit is a great collection--a snare, often muted by a hand towel, a high hat and cymbal, and a tom nestled in a stylish wicker chair, which he tells us acts as a kick/floor tom. Sometimes he uses brushes, other times sticks. They then launched into an upbeat ‘Goodbye Girl,’ Muriel joining on chorus harmonies, sometimes joined by Steve. It is great fun. They read comments from Look Now producer Sebastian Krys, who gushed about them making his day.
As they wait for a guest to call in, Steve plays the Difford/Costello composition ‘Boy with A Problem’ as an interlude. The technical collaboration between Chez Téodori-Nieve and distant guests depends on blind, or perhaps more aptly, deaf faith: the remote player plays without hearing the collaborators, and Steve, AJUQ, and sometimes Muriel join in on their end, cueing visually and with intuition to play in time with their guest. It mostly works! Special Squeeze began with Chris Difford calling in from a room that looked EXACTLY how you would imagine a great English wordsmith’s inner sanctum would: tudor beams, high ceiling, and a spectacular convex mirror (Muriel asked--is that a sorcièr? Oeil de sorcièr, or sorcerer’s eye is the proper decor name). Chris said it is his writing room.
After some technical wrangling, Chris launched into a beautiful version of ‘Take Me I’m Yours.’ His voice is self-assured and perfect. This version is terrific--especially since he cannot hear his French contributors. But Steve takes a solo when prompted by Chris and it is magic.
These are old friends, swapping stories and comparing notes on life under lockdown in their towns. Chris admits he hates not being out among the audience and seeing people. They launch into ‘Cowboys Are My Weakness,’ a solo Chris song that the pair had played on tour together. AJUQ eventually joins on drums and of course it is so nice; Chris’s daughters are commenting to each other in the chat about their dad’s voice being so strong and reassuring. It is family time not only at Chez Téodori-Nieve but on Facebook live.
They all swap great stories about Lou Reed. Chris suggests that there be a Special Lou Reed, that he’d come back and sing a number. He introduces his version of “Up the Junction” as a bit Lou Reed-ish. Chris ends with ‘Cool for Cats,’ the song he described as “the one that did all the damage.” The old friends swap stories, including Steve recalling his first time seeing Squeeze, which was also the first time he had a beer! There are lots of great stories and great warmth between these old friends. And then it is Goodbye Chris.
AJUQ and Steve decide to improvise a piece while they wait for the call from their second guest for the day. EC does call in, and gushes about the show so far, which he has been streaming. He tells us the original plan for East Side Story was a double album with the four sides to each have a different producer: Nick Lowe, Dave Edmunds, Elvis Costello, and PAUL McCartney! There are terrific inside tales and insights throughout this episode.
EC plays ‘Someone Else’s Heart.’ a song he recorded for the Squeeze project produced by Steve Mandel. These songs are being slowly released as Record Store Day exclusives, the Squeeze Swindles series on Yep Roc. It is a terrific version and Costello remarked on the complexity and sophistication of Tilbrook’s song structure. It is then on to ‘Messed Around,’ the boogie woogie standout from East Side Story. There is a fantastic story about mixing this song in the studio.
There is camaraderie and planning and then we are played out to the sounds of ‘Another Nail in My Heart.’ Day 34 or done. Plans hang in the air for Special Lou Reed, another Squeeze day, EC joining them for a suite of songs on the theme of colors. The Immobile Tour is somehow on a roll.
Still, covid hangs like a sinister off stage villain, lurking just outside camera range. Muriel had written with iconic French singer, Chrisophe, who died of coronavirus complications on April 17, a loss they feel and share with us. These salons are an unbelievable privilege for us to experience, the community we create feels like a real one. There is so much loss now, it is sweet to have a thoughtful, loving reprieve with what feels like family. Hope to see you at Chez Téodori-Nieve.
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